iGen, the new consumer that came of age in 2012, landed in a marketplace environment where the online world and real world are inescapably connected. TV is served through computers; printed newspapers, magazines and books are on the decline; the Internet is omnipresent; and global borders are virtually eliminated. The iGen generation is projected to be the largest and deepest generation gap in history. Our success or failure as marketers is completely contingent on our ability to understand iGen.
It has become abundantly clear that “iGen-ers” only care about information if it is relevant to them. Since the power of brand engagement is in the hands of the consumer, iGen-ers will serve as their own gatekeepers, awarding relevant information by sharing it with their trusted network of peers and burying irrelevant information so it will be invisible to their peers. This trend is already evident in early studies: 60% of iGen expects relevant advertisements and 46% prefer funny advertisements.
An acceptable bypass into iGen's circle of trust is to leverage influencers who already have access to the generation's touch points. These influencers can be anyone from individuals active on social media to people with a lot of friends or professionals in the communications industry. iGen may not listen to brands, but iGen will listen to influencers they trust when they talk about brands.
So if iGen-ers are no longer paying attention to any traditional form of controlled brand messaging, how are brands supposed to communicate with iGen?
Since iGen-ers are tied to their mobile appendages, and brands are no longer limited by time and space in order to reach consumers, there is an unprecedented opportunity to reach them directly and in real time, creating something marketers have been longing for: personal engagement through infinite touch points.
Brands have to seek admittance and earn their way in. And there is a price of admission. Brands must do three things: listen and become fluent in their language and habits to ensure you are speaking to the right audience; converse through two-way, genuine communication; and deliver on your brand promise. The major cost of paying admission to iGen is that brands must concede control of the message to the audience and accept all of the risks that entails, but the benefit for being in iGen's club is unprecedented real time access to your audience.
To date we're saying things that no one cares about in a crowd of people who are shouting over us and just talking to their friends.So how do we get heard when we are whispering in a crowd and shouting in a vacuum?
We need access to iGen's infinite touch points, but we must first be noticed by iGen. There are four ways of doing this: One, be present at the point of purchase. Two, be relevant to your target audience. Three, leverage the people your audience listens to. Four, be a brand your audience loves.
And then we have to understand that the familiar marketing funnel where a consumer becomes aware of a product or service, expresses interest in a product group, emotes desire for a brand or product, and then purchases the product has turned upside down. In short, brands must touch the consumer at each level of this funnel to move them to purchase. Now it's cyclical. iGen becomes aware of the product, goes through the whole funnel, and then turns around and tells peers about the product that, in turn, have their own funnels. Not only that, but all the touch points along the way are coming from other consumers, not brands.
It's time to adapt to this new marketing funnel and recognize that sticking to the comfort level of traditional communication channels is not going to get us into the trusted new circle of the next consumer generation.
Stefan Pollack is president of The Pollack PR Marketing Group. Since 2001, he has taught as an adjunct professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Pollack is the author of Disrupted, From Gen Y to iGen: Communicating with the Next Generation.